Prairie Plant Conservation, Part 3: Plant propagation

baby pleurisy root at PSB

At Prairie Star, we often write and speak about the magical plants that are part of our bioregion, which we fondly refer to as the Golden Prairie.  Our posts share the traditional uses of these valuable plant allies, how to identify them, how to propagate them, and the many ways to prepare them.

In past weeks, we’ve talked about our practices for wild-crafting, or harvesting plants in their wild habitat.  That’s one of the ways that we bring plants into our lab for producing our products.  This week we’re talking about our efforts to bring bio-regional plants into our educational garden, our residential landscapes, and public education projects.

It’s probably not a stretch to say that we are all plant-lovers, looking longingly through the seed websites and catalogs, and searching for the perfect addition to our green spaces.  For the last few years, we’ve started hundreds of plant babies in our subterranean greenhouse – with controlled temperature and light.  We learned that many of our native plants require an exposure to cold temperatures in order to stimulate generation.  This requirement demands some attention to the calendar, which may only make sense to the true botany-loving plant nerds of the group.  Retrieving seeds from cold storage, and transferring them one by one to their germination cells is time-consuming and wondrous at the same time.  This process starts in mid-January with seed purchases, continues in February and March with cold stratification, and then on to planting seeds in a special-order germination mix.  Plants are inspected daily for progress, watered and transferred to larger growing containers as needed.  We’ve been successful with our treasured natives – echinacea, pleurisy root (aka butterfly milkweed), leadplant, liatris, red root, just to name a few.  Of course, we can’t resist some of our other favorites, even though they can’t claim bio-regional status – like calendula, lavender, and holy basil.

You may wonder what happens to all of these plants.  Over the last two years, many have made it to our annual spring plant sale.  Some were destined for nearby Fort Atkinson’s historical native medicinal plant walk.  Others have found their way into Prairie Star’s educational garden, where we get a chance to experience the growth patterns and lifecycles of our favorite prairie plants.  And, lastly, a certain number of them make it home with us, and live happily in our yards and gardens.

We encourage you to experiment with these amazing plants.  No experiment is ever a failure, and we have all learned something from our experiences.  You may learn historical and native uses of plants that are important today in many of the same ways that they were useful to the original inhabitants of the prairie we live in.

Butterfly weed and echinacea plant babies awaiting their new homes at Fort Atkinson's Native Plant Walk, Prairie Star's Educational Garden, and my urban prairie garden.

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